Sunday, October 7, 2012

Einstein's God Part I

Over at Pharyngula PZ reports that a letter from Einstein containing this quote :
"The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text." - 1947
is going up for auction.


Other quotations in which Einstein expresses his absence of belief in a personal God include this:
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it" - 1954
So Einstein did not believe in a personal God and therefore was not a theist, he was therefore an atheist.   However Einstein in a number of places claims not to be an atheist but rather an agnostic.   
"I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being". - 1949
This is a position similar to Darwin's which I intend to more fully explore in a later post and like Darwin he tries to escape the only meaningful definition of an atheist  as a person who does not believe in a personal God.  The consequence of which is that agnosticism or even deism are both subsets of atheism.  And talking about sets Einstein puts up a vigorous defence of the outspoken and campaigning atheist Bertrand Russell.
"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly." - 1940

At times he has no alternative but to admit his atheism, for example in refuting the claim of a Jesuit priest that he had converted to Christianity:
"I have never talked to a Jesuit priest in my life and I am astonished by the audacity to tell such lies about me. From the viewpoint of a Jesuit priest I am, of course, and have always been an atheist." - 1945
Enough for now, I am sure I will post more on it later.





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